Visit a 19th century bindery and it is likely the only two bookbinding adhesives you would see in use would be
animal glue and a paste made from bread flour.
Binders managed very well for many centuries using these two adhesives.
But now things are more complicated, man made bookbinding adhesives are now used. And glues and pastes have been
refined and redefined.
Let’s start with animal glue.
Animal glue is an adhesive that is created by prolonged boiling of animal connective
These protein colloid glues are formed through hydrolysis of the collagen from skins, bones, tendons, and other
tissues, similar to gelatine. The word "collagen" itself derives from Greek
kolla, glue. These proteins form a strong molecular bond with the glued object.
Excellent for many uses such as bookbinding, conservation, and various other applications. Used in particular
for gluing up the backs in antiquarian book restoration.
I know of many bookbinders who make use of animal glue, more people are rediscovering its merits as it is a
reversible adhesive. Comes in flake, granules or powder form.
Recipe for making animal glue.
To prepare for use, add 1 part of glue to 1.5 parts cold water whilst agitating.
Leave to soak for approximately 1 hour, and then dissolve by warming.
At no time during the dissolving period (or in use) should the temperature exceed 140°F (60°C) or serious loss of
adhesion properties may occur.
General purpose bookbinding adhesives for use on paper, binder’s board and leather.
Suitable for paper-to-paper adhesion such as bookplates, hinging, repairing torn pages and corners.
Can also be mixed with PVA bookbinding adhesives or methyl cellulose.
Wheat Paste Recipe
Prepare 1 cup of very hot water.
Make a thin mixture of 3 tablespoons (45 mg) of strong white flour (bread flour) and cold water (just enough to
wet all the flour and make it liquid enough to pour).
Pour the cold mixture slowly into the hot water while stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. When it thickens,
allow to cool.
After using a portion, reheat the remaining in a covered jar or container to sterilize it for storage or keep
refrigerated. If wheat flour is not available, other flours will work which will produce adhesives with different
qualities, for example potato starch makes a very sticky paste.
There are also highly refined wheat starches, unmodified food grade starches, possessing the unique character of
wheat starches. These starch's are exceptionally white in colour, gelatinize at low cooking temperatures and forms
cooled pastes which are delicate and smooth in texture, used in paper conservation.
For the same applications as wheat starch. Forms a transparent film. Unmodified, requires cooking. Has an excellent
water retention property.
General purpose PVA.
Polyvinyl acetate is a component of a widely-used type of glue, referred to variously as
wood glue, white glue, carpenter's glue, school glue or PVA glue.
Commonly used bookbinding adhesives and for box making applications, adhering paper to paper, cloth to wood,
leather, filling in cracks in art canvases and repairing ceramic objects. Holds firmly to plastic materials.
Acid Free PVA
There are acid free PVA bookbinding adhesives. For all bookbinding and general
use applications. Excellent adhesion for paper, fabric, board, canvas, leather and film.
There also includes a water reversible formulation, also acid free, these archival bookbinding adhesives
provides a very strong bond similar to that of the acid free adhesives, with the added advantage of being
reversible with water after it has dried. Ideal for conservation work where reversibility is desirable.
I use a 50/50 mixture of PVA and wheat starch paste when covering books in leather. The PVA gives the adhesion I
look for, and paste prolongs the drying time, so that I can work with the leather.
Methyl Cellulose (methylcellulose) is an adhesive with a wide variety of applications. Commonly used as a
bookbinding adhesive for paper, as well as sizing papers and fabrics, thickening water baths for marbling paper,
used to loosen and clean off old glue from spines and book boards, or added to Paste.
Hot Melt Adhesives
Hot melt adhesive (HMA), also known as hot glue, is a form of thermoplastic adhesive that
is commonly supplied in solid cylindrical sticks of various diameters, designed to be melted in an electric hot
glue gun. The gun uses a continuous-duty heating element to melt the plastic glue, which may be pushed through the
gun by a mechanical trigger mechanism, or directly by the user. The glue is tacky when hot, and hardens in anywhere
from a few seconds to one minute.
We used slow setting hot melt glue in the form of glue sticks applied through a hand squeezed glue gun, when
constructing boxes, later to be covered in papers. The bond formed was quite strong and aided rapid assembly.
Another kind of hot melt adhesive is used in the construction of pulp paper books. Indeed, a proportion of
paperback books find their way into a binders hand because of the type of hot melt adhesive used.
Such bookbinding adhesives are applied when the glue is hot and liquid, upon setting some of these adhesives dry
hard and brittle, so brittle that some brand new books simply break in two because of the pressure applied when
opening and the inflexible nature of the adhesive used on the spine
This is ironic when you consider that the name given to this form of paper back binding is known as “Perfect
So, there we are. A closer look at some of the adhesives you may encounter in hand bookbinding.
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